Well, everyone, it looks like Dropbox has listened. They’ve rewritten their TOS in a way that is very sensible, does not use loaded legal terminology that would allow an unscrupulous employee or future company administration to do a little snatch-and-grab with your intellectual property, and is layperson readable. I call this a good result. The outcry from the user community (this was covered a LOT of other places besides just here, most of them with bigger audiences) has been really impressive, and it looks like it made a serious difference in this case.
ZDNet reports this morning on the new TOS. Take some time to read it. It’s a HUGE improvement.
As far as closing thoughts on my part?
Well, first, credit where it’s due, Dropbox listened to their users and seems to be addressing the legitimate concerns. That merits cautious kudos. Something else they did that merits unqualified praise is that they released their TOS changes a full two weeks before they went into effect, which gave everyone who wanted to a chance to pull their files and back out, or to send in feedback, or both. This is a practice that more companies should take notice of and implement. I suspect that the combination of these two actions will serve Dropbox’s reputation well among their users.
Second, the broader principle of caution with online services shouldn’t be forgotten: Know the risks you’re taking with free, cloud-based services, and protect yourself. How do you protect yourself? Keep up to date on the TOS, so you don’t get caught unawares by changes. Encrypt everything you upload. Do not upload intellectual property to services (like Google+ and Facebook, both of which currently have TOS substantially similar to or slightly worse than Dropbox’s earlier proposed revision) that claim the right to re-use, sublicence, create derivative works, adapt, etc. your work (or, worse, the files you merely have a license to use, like your music). A little caution (and encryption) goes a long way.
Third, even with services where you are not the customer, enough people getting pissed off enough can, indeed, make a difference. It’s sort of like the cows all running away from the farm at once–the cows are the product, but if there’s no product, there’s no way to sell it. Your power is diminished in situations where you’re the product rather than the customer, but it’s not totally negligible. Keep up with the blogging!
Fourth, there is a very good reason that Dropbox is popular in the first place: They provide an easy backup solution. Off-site backups are important. Without them, you always risk having your files lost in a fire. Just be careful when shopping for one, and do protect yourself.
Everybody Knows Peggy Lee (or should)